Barbara Locci and her lover Antonio Lo Bianco were the first victims of The Monster of Florence, the horrifying terror that used to stalk lovers in the Italian countryside only to leave them mutilated in blood. After them, another twelve people were killed, fourteen young lovers in total, over a period from 1968 to 1985.
When author Douglas Preston decided to move to Florence to research his book with the help of Italian journalist Mario Spezi, it was the moment that the mythical saga would strike in his blood-spattered arouse. One of his gory crimes took place next to Preston’s new home. So, to the author, the Monster of Florence was more than the European answer to Jack the Ripper. It was rather an obligation to become obsessed and entangled in a horrific crime story.
From 1968 to 1985, fourteen young lovers were shockingly murdered in their cars in isolated areas outside of Florence. Mutilation and madness were the only suitable words to describe the rime scenes and the tortures the victims had suffered. All the victims were first shot with a .22 automatic Beretta and then stabbed to death.
Preston and Spezi began to look for evidence, although witnesses had died and proof was missing. Preston followed many local theories and he even joined “Monsterologist” in his effort to bring closure to all unsolved crimes. Together with Spezi they developed numerous theories about the killer’s identity: he could be a local aristocrat; a Satanist; a betrayed husband; someone with dexterity in knives like a physician or butcher. He could even be an imitator of Hannibal Lecter.
With all of the key suspects set free or released from prison on appeal, Preston and Spezi continued their research until a paranoid police force more alarmed with saving face than naming the right suspect, jailed Spezi on suspicion of being the Monster himself and accused Preston for obstructing justice.
In 2001, Florence police arrested Francesco Bruno, a leading criminal psychologist and Aurelio Mattei, a psychologist with the Sisde Secret Service. Although books, cds and notes about the killings were confiscated, and both men were questioned persistently for more than nine hours, police could not deem as guilty neither of them for the heinous murders. However, investigators still believe that both suspects have withheld critical evidence from the original investigation.
In the chronicles of crime, the Monster of Florence is one of the strangest cases. Capturing the shocked imagination of the Italian people, his crimes consumed enormous resources. In fact, almost one hundred thousand men were investigated and over a dozen were arrested. Douglas Preston mentions in his introduction that the investigation “has been like a malignancy, spreading backward in time and outward in space, metastasizing into different cities and swelling into new investigations, with new judges, police, and prosecutors, more suspects, more arrests, and many more lives ruined.”
The first half of the book is Spezi’s story bringing in Preston’s simplified contribution in the case in the second half. “The Monster of Florence” is a gloomily fascinating fall into a landscape of horror and, at the same time, an engrossing biographical piece. As the story develops, Preston and Spezi become part of the dreadful story they are covering.
Overall, “The Monster of Florence” resembles more to a journalist’s work rather than a novelist’s work, which makes sense considering the background of both Preston and Spezi. However, by no means this makes the novel less fascinating. In fact, the writing style makes the book more immediate and riveting, because the bizarre murders are enough to capture the reader’s attention.